GIBSON CITY — Bryce Barnes questioned himself Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before he was set to leave for the University of Illinois.
Barnes’ response, after a brief pause, gave him the appearance of being confident, yet hopeful, to improve his craft with Lovie Smith’s Illini football program.
“Am I ready, mentally and physically?” Barnes asked. “Mentally, I’m there. I’m ready. I’m ready to get to work. Physically, I think I’m almost there. The cardio part is really going to be the part that gets me.”
The recent Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley graduate will have ample opportunity to perfect that aspect of his football acumen.
He was among the incoming Illinois freshmen who moved onto campus Wednesday in preparation for the 2019 Illini football campaign, and he’ll jump into preseason workouts on Monday.
Barnes received a preferred walk-on offer from Smith’s program less than a week after a strong performance during the 2018 Class 2A state football championship game, in which the Falcons defeated Maroa-Forsyth 35-16 on Nov. 23 in Champaign.
During the game, Barnes made seven tackles, recorded two sacks and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown on top of posting 40 all-purpose yards offensively.
That all went down at Memorial Stadium, which Barnes now can call home.
“I’m ready for the new experience,” Barnes said. “It’s going to be challenging sometimes, but it’s definitely going to all be worth it in the end.”
Though the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Barnes was recruited at linebacker, he said he’s now been talking most frequently with Illinois tight ends coach Cory Patterson.
“I’m definitely OK with that. I’m OK with any side of the ball,” Barnes said. “It’ll be fun. It’ll be weird playing one side of the ball (instead of multiple), but it’ll still be difficult.”
Even though Barnes feels he has room to grow in his jump from the Heart of Illinois Conference to the Big Ten Conference, he’s also happy with his preparation to this point, particularly his work with Tim Leonard at Elite Performance in Gibson City.
“Dr. Leonard has been a huge part of my success,” Barnes said. “I told him I needed speed (workouts), and he put speed in there, and I think that’s going to translate onto the football field.”
Fitting in with all his new teammates is something Barnes also is looking forward to.
He said he’ll be roommates with a fellow preferred walk-on in Ryan Meed, a linebacker out of New York. In addition to building a rapport with Meed, Barnes enjoyed conversations he had at the most recent Illini spring game this past April.
“They’re cool guys,” Barnes said. “They’re kind of like me — they’re ready to get to work. They’re ready to change the program around.”